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Xavier v. Butler: Preview, matchups, keys to the game

And we all return to our roots

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Providence Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

There are two reclamation projects occurring in the Big East right now. Sean Miller has landed back at Xavier, where he is trying to rebuild a reputation destroyed by ESPN, trusting his assistants, and the backroom dealing endemic to college sport. Thad Matta is back at Butler, a team he propelled to national relevance, trying undo the damage done by finishing 76th and 73rd in the KenPom his last two seasons at Ohio State and being a complete and utter weasel when he left Xavier leaving Xavier under less than ideal circumstances.

So how is that going? Xavier is 23rd in KenPom, 25th in the NET, and a three seed in the latest run of Bracket Matrix. The Musketeers play fast, have the sixth best offense in the nation, and sit alone atop the Big East. Butler, on the other hand, is a East Palestine level train wreck. The governor hasn’t yet evacuated the area, but he may.

Since Big East play started the Bulldogs are 4-10. Overall their NET is 112th, but in the time since conference play started, that has taken a nosedive. Butler is 221st on Torvik in that time span, 322nd on offense, 351st in effective field goal percentage, and below 250th in seven other categories. That is, for the record, worse than Georgetown. They did, somehow, just beat St. John’s.

Team fingerprint

On offense Butler doesn’t turn the ball over much. Well, they’re 125th in the nation. That’s their highest rank on anything related to offense. In the spirit of “if you can’t say something nice,” I’ll just say I’m sure they are trying hard. They play slowly and don’t really generate much from it.

On defense the Bulldogs are better, if not great. They block some shots, the force a few turnovers, and they don’t foul hardly at all. The thing they are the best at is choking off the three point line. That has come at the cost of allowing a 51% opponents shooting percentage inside the arc, but at least it’s something.


Starting matchups
Eric Hunter Jr. Point Guard Souley Boum
Senior Class Senior
6'4", 170 Measurements 6'3", 175
12.2/3.8/1.2 Game line 16.3/4/5
41.7/34.3/77.4 Shooting line 45.9/41.8/87.9
Hunter came over from Purdue, where he was sensational in low usage last year thanks largely to an inability to miss from deep. He's back down to his career average this year, and his production has suffered for it. He's an alright defender who rarely fouls, but he doesn't get many assists, can be turnover prone, and isn't much of a scoring threat.
Jayden Taylor Shooting Guard Adam Kunkel
Sophomore Class Senior
6'4", 195 Measurements 6'4", 185
11.4/4/3 Game line 10/2.5/3
44/41.2/78.8 Shooting line 47.1/39.8/85.7
Taylor is more of a defender than an offensive weapon. He's good at the line, decent behind the arc, and shoots way more than he should for his efficiency numbers.
Ali Ali Small Forward Colby Jones
Senior Class Junior
6'8", 205 Measurements 6'6", 205
6.3/4.3/0.4 Game line 15/4.9/4.9
46.8/42.9/81.3 Shooting line 51.4/42.1/69.3
Ali Ali comes from last year's powerhouse Akron Zips where he was a deadly outside shooter. Since returning from injury for Butler he has not been able to get his feet under him and has, frankly, been really, really bad.
Simas Lukosius Power Forward Jerome Hunter
Sophomore Class Senior
6'7", 225 Measurements 6'8", 215
11.7/3.5/2.7 Game line 6.4/3.7/1
41.8/36.4/83.9 Shooting line 57.5/20/68.2
Bry calls him the most unlikable player in the Big East. What Lukosius definitely is is one of Butler's two good offensive players. He's a great outside shooter who can absolutely explode if given the opportunity. He's less effective putting the ball on the deck.
Manny Bates Center Jack Nunge
Senior Class Senior
6'11", 240 Measurements 7'0" 245
8.9/3.5/2.6 Game line 10/2.5/3
41.5/33.7/68.3 Shooting line 47.1/39.8/85.7
Bates is Butler's most efficient offensive player but is fifth on the team in usage rate. Bates knows what dude he is and stays in near the rim to do damage. He's an effective shot blocker who keeps himself out of foul trouble well.


Chuck Harris will probably see limited minutes if he is cleared from concussion protocol to play. He’s a scoring guard who is absolutely nails from the line. He has missed the last two games. Jalen Thomas, a backup 6-10 big man, has seen an uptick in his playing time recently. He’s mediocre offensively, but cleans the glass and can block shots. Myles Tate may see some playing time as a backup guard. He’s a good on ball defender and horrid on offense. Pierce Thomas is a glass cleaning swing guard who you get no points for guessing is also well below 100 in offensive efficiency.

Three keys

- Pound the ball inside: Butler has been allowing a 53.2% opponents field goal percentage inside the arc since conference play started. That’s appalling. Xavier shoots that same percentage inside the arc in that same time span and over 54% on the year. It’s an easy and obvious place for Xavier’s offense to start.

- Keep up the spacing: Matta apparently doesn’t want to get gashed from deep and will leave his bigs on an island to do that. Assuming he doesn’t want to watch Jack Nunge score 40 tonight, he’ll need to send help a little bit. 90% of Xavier’s made threes this season have come off an assist. If Butler tries to help inside the Musketeers will join Creighton as teams that have gashed the Bulldogs from deep.

- Push the pace: Butler goes maybe seven deep and has had just two players appear in every game. They have played just three games with over 70 possessions this season. Xavier, on the other hand, is 24th in the nation in pace. Butler, most likely, will just hold the ball on offense for long stretches. Even down a man, X has the legs to turn this into a track meet.

Three questions:

- Can Xavier get some minutes from the bench? Against St. John’s Xavier got a total of 20 minutes from Cesare Edwards and Kam Craft. Even that would be a boon to the Musketeers, who could potentially get someone else a little bit of rest. There will of course also be The Kyky Cameo. Until Zach Freemantle comes back, someone has to give decent time off the deep bench.

- Can Xavier break their away duck? X has lost two of their last road games, one to a team arguably as bad as Butler. Against Creighton they just didn’t show up, against DePaul they were just bad. In that span they’ve beaten UConn and Providence at home, so it isn’t a complete come apart, but this team needs to show they can win on the road.

- Will the defense play 40 minutes? This almost happened against St. John’s. Xavier defended well while the game was in doubt and then sort of coasted to the finish. A Reddit data analyst posted last night the 12 factors that impact teams Final Four potential. Of the teams he considered Final Four contenders, Xavier had far and away the worst defense. That has to improve for the Musketeers to go deep in the tournament. Might as well start dialing it in against an awful offense.